Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Olympic ideal?

The Olympics has, then, lived down to all expectations. We have controversy over the opening ceremony, restrictions on press freedom and poor attendances, although the Chinese have attempted to cover the latter up by bussing in numbers of student volunteers. But, what did people expect?

Only someone with no knowledge of both the Olympic Games and the Chinese government would have predicted anything else. Essentially, the Olympics, for the host city or nation, is a prolonged exercise in showing off. A means of demonstrating your wonderfulness (or superiority) to vast numbers of people, beyond the reach of any tourist ad campaign. So, when China was given the games, it should have obvious that they would go all out to persuade the world of their superior organisational skills, their sporting brilliance and social advancement.

Moreover, it should have been obvious what that would imply the Chinese. Complaining about hiding insufficiently pretty children or media manipulation is rather naïve. What did people expect? That, overwhelmed by the beauty and harmony of the Olympics, the Chinese government would see the error of its ways, free its political prisoners, leave Tibet and embrace freedom, justice and the American Way? Or does it seem slightly more likely that being awarded the Olympics would appear more like a vindication of China’s approach? And that any concessions and promises wrung from the Chinese government would be carried out in a pretty tokenistic and grudging way, lasting only for the duration of the Games?

No one believes that the Olympics can “contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play”, to quote the IOC’s website. Friendship, solidarity and fair play? How about enmity, division and ultra-competitiveness bordering on cheating? For all this kind of nonsense, for most countries, the Olympics is about proving a point, through their position in the medal table. Whilst the media goes wobbly at the knees over the story of some hopeless hick, or admires the plucky resolve of an athlete who competes just for the thrill of taking part in the Olympics, the majority of the coverage is focused on well paid/well subsidised athletes, whose prowess was backed by their country in a deliberate attempt at self-aggrandisement. Hardly the Olympic ‘ideal’.

To make matters worse, the 2012 Olympics are being held in London. Given the track record of organising major events and construction projects in the UK, many are predicting an embarrassing mess. It’s difficult to imagine an opening ceremony anywhere near the level of previous recent Olympics.
However, the greatest problem lies in the fact that people in the UK are becoming less active and fatter, at a time when record amounts are being pumped into sport in an attempt to promote the achievements of a handful of elite athletes. So, instead of preparing for an Olympics that likely to be massively over budget and slightly embarrassing, watched by millions of overweight, unfit Britons while a handful of their compatriots show off the vast resources that have been invested in them, why not do the decent thing, and give the Olympics back to the IOC. Somebody else can have them.

And then, let's use the money we’ll save to invest in local sports provision, that encourages as many people as possible to get involved. How about high quality leisure centres and pools, well maintained parks and open spaces, properly staffed and equipped. Let's buy more playing fields for schools, to replace the ones sold-off, and provide decent equipment for them, and encourage schools to see sports more as a way to keep fit and even enjoy ourselves, than a way to boost the school's profile through the school team’s success.

Sure, we will be a long way down the medals table at the Olympics, but maybe we can agree that success at sport is a very poor way of judging a country’s achievements. And when we look at other ways of judging this, maybe we will be able to get off our settees and actually do something about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the olympics shouldn't have gone to china. period. then they say politics & sport dont mix. like politics had nothing to do with picking china as host nation.